Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking Democrat Joe Manchin III said he will support President Donald Trump’s pick to fill a vacant Republican seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission even though the White House has yet to nominate a member for a vacant Democratic seat.
The West Virginia senator’s support should all but clear the way for a precedent-breaking confirmation, despite opposition from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
Trump nominated FERC general counsel James Danly to fill a vacancy after the death of the commission’s former chairman James McIntyre. But he hasn’t paired him with someone to fill the spot left open after the resignation of Democrat Cheryl LaFleur in August.
The federal regulator of electric markets normally operates with two members of each party and a chairman picked by the president.
At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing for Danly on Tuesday, Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she supported Danly’s nomination and hoped concerns about pairings “will not be what drives anyone to oppose” the nomination.
During the hearing, Manchin told Danly that he had “no doubt” he would be confirmed but added that he’s “begged” the White House to nominate a Democrat. Speaking to reporters afterward, Manchin made clear that he wouldn’t hold up the nomination, but he urged the president to nominate someone to fill the hole left by LaFleur’s departure.
Manchin said the absence of a pairing is not grounds to oppose Danly’s nomination. “The bottom line is it’s not [Danly’s] fault,” he said.
He also waved away Schumer’s opposition to advancing Danly’s nomination. On Monday, the senior New York Democrat wrote to the Energy Department’s inspector general asking it to review Danly’s participation in the evaluation of commissioners’ ethics agreements.
FERC’s Office of General Counsel recently provided “inconsistent and inaccurate ethics advice” to commissioners that delayed energy projects and opened previous commission decisions to legal challenges, Schumer wrote.
“As part of the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent responsibilities, it is important to understand how Mr. Danly’s role in FERC’s ethics program and implementation of the Administration’s ethics pledge may impact his suitability for confirmation.”
During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Danly said he wasn’t involved in ethics reviews.
“Despite the claims in this letter, it’s my understanding that the ethics advice at FERC is provided by its designated agency ethics official,” he said.
Asked by reporters about Schumer’s letter, Manchin said he heard the concerns and “take[s] it seriously” but “this committee still has to operate and FERC has to operate.”